New England Bay Scallops with Penne

They are the best scallops in the world, and for a brief period every winter, if you are lucky, you can find them.

I wait for these beauties all year. From November to March, New England bay scallops are in season, and the best ones from Nantucket are a seafood lovers delight. They are closely protected, carefully harvested, quite expensive, and passionately sought after!

The terroir determines the flavor

Like oysters, bay scallops pick up their flavor from their surrounding cold waters and their particular ecosystems, and throughout New England, the unique terroir of the area means their flavor varies by location. Bay scallops from Nantucket Island are considered world-wide to be the best bay scallops of all ––and I agree totally––so good these delicacies can be eaten raw. The best, but I’d certainly not turn my back on a Cape Cod or even New Hampshire bay! Usually, all of these are hard to track down, and I hound my fish monger each year to get them in!

Some years, the harvest is a long one stretching through to March. Other years, most of the harvest stops once Nantucket Bay freezes over, and it’s not uncommon for everything to stop in January. They are carefully regulated also according to air temperature, which cannot be colder than the water. They are harvested by fishermen using hand dredges, and immediately shucked by hand. They are much smaller than sea scallops, so one can imagine the labor this takes, and thus the expense.

Carefully managed

In addition to being carefully managed for sustainability, bay scallops here are never processed with preservatives, although off season you can sometimes find them frozen from the fishing companies. In my opinion, freezing for less than two months is OK, but beyond that there is a change in the texture and definitely in flavor. Fresh is always best, even if it means you have to wait all year to have them again.

Sweet, tender, buttery, there is nothing like them in the world, but they are expensive. They are best cooked simply so their flavor shines through. Lightly sautéed in butter and added to an omelet is perfect. A quick broil with lightly buttered breadcrumbs, also delicious, as is sautéed to top a risotto. My mom loved them baked with a little cream and a crispy topping. One of my favorite ways to cook them is to sauté lightly with a bit of garlic, white wine, a little lemon and parsley, and served over pasta of some sort.

This week, I found some delicious red lentil pasta which was perfect for this dish, but you can use any favorite pasta. My supplier had Cape Cod scallops rather than Nantuckets, but they were still divine! I used the coconut milk to keep this dairy free, but you can use a local heavy cream if you like.

Substitute?

If you cannot find New England bay scallops, please do not substitute with the bays you will find in most markets; they are from China, have absolutely no flavor, have been frozen for who knows how long, are as tough as pencil erasers, and are raised in questionable circumstances. Indeed, they were banned for many years because of contamination. I was surprised to see them in the markets again.

Rather, substitute with wild harvested local sea scallops, just cut them in half or quarters if you want them smaller. This dish is really tasty, really easy, and will be done in the time it takes to make the pasta!

New England Bay Scallops with Penne

Serves Four

  • 8 oz. red lentil or other penne
  • 1 tbsp. olive oil, or so
  • 2 tbsp. unsalted butter, divided
  • 4 oz. shiitake mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 pound New England bay scallops
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/3 cup dry white wine
  • Zest of one lemon
  • ¾ cup full fat coconut milk or heavy cream
  • 2 tbsp. flat-leafed Italian parsley
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Parmesan cheese or toasted breadcrumbs to top

Remove any large muscles from the scallops. The small ones will become tender once cooked. Pat them dry, and set aside.

Fill a large pot with salted water and bring to a boil. Once boiling, add the pasta and set your timer to about a minute less than the recommended time.

Heat a large skillet over medium high and add the olive oil and 1 tbsp. of the butter. Add the mushrooms, and sauté just until soft. Remove from the pan and set aside.

Add a bit more oil to the pan along with the scallops. After a minute, sprinkle the garlic on top and add the second tablespoon of butter. Turn the scallops and cook another two minutes, keeping them moving. You want a little brown, but not a hard sear or you will probably overcook them.

Deglaze the pan with the wine, scraping up all the brown. Add the lemon juice and zest (start with one tablespoon of the juice), the coconut milk, and stir in the parsley, reserving a bit for garnish. 

Remove the pasta from the pot using a spider or slotted spoon and transfer directly to the scallops, and add the mushrooms back. Combine well, add salt and pepper and taste. Correct and add more lemon juice if you like. If you want more of a sauce, add a little past water.

Plate and top with toasted breadcrumbs or Parmesan. I like it both ways, but I had the toasted breadcrumbs on hand.

Toasted Breadcrumbs:

In a small skillet over medium-high heat, add 1 cup panko or other dried breadcrumbs, 2 tbsp. butter, 1/2 tsp. sweet paprika. Keep the crumbs moving until they are lightly toasted. Remove from the pan and let cool. I like to make my own breadcrumbs if I don’t have panko in the house. You can also add a couple of very finely minced garlic to this as well.

Vegan alternative:

You can use all shiitake mushrooms or other favorite mushrooms for this dish and it is still delicious! I’d add a bit of flaked seaweed to add a little taste of the sea.

Shells on a cape cod beach. A couple of years ago, my husband and I visited an isolated beach on Cape Cod that was filled with beautiful shells, many of them scallops!

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40 Comments Add yours

  1. Suzassippi says:

    This looks absolutely divine! It is beautiful and sounds very tasty. Perhaps someday, I shall live where there are scallops, but alas, I am only in catfish country. 🙂

    1. Well, there are some wonderful catfish recipes as well!

      1. Suzassippi says:

        I invented my version of red pepper parmesan crusted catfish when I moved here.

      2. Sounds like lovely combination of flavors! I love Parm as a coating on fresh water fish.

  2. The gulls and I scour the local beaches 🙂 seaweed for my garden and maybe I will try some after a storm such as we just had I bet the beach is covered 🙂

    1. This picture was taken in April, and there certainly seemed to be abundant shells of all kinds about!

      1. Yes up here in NH and Maine the same thing 🙂

      2. Ah, I see you are in Epping! Just a couple of hours from me here in Bellows Falls, VT.

      3. Yes a hop skip and jump from each other 🙂
        \

  3. A marvelous easy bake Dorothy! I love the ingredients too. Red lentils is an interesting option.

    1. I hadn’t tried it before, so I did a little test cook before using them with the scallops. I was delighted!

  4. chef mimi says:

    Oooooh I love red lentil penne! And I love scallops but I can’t get fresh where I live. Huuummmmppphhhh.

    1. The lentil penne is now one of my favorites! Hadn’t seen it before.

      1. chef mimi says:

        I can actually buy it where I live. It must have been a mistake! But they’ll stop selling it soon enough…

      2. Let’s hope you can get it always!

  5. Love scallops cooked any way at all. This is a great recipe.

    1. Thank you so much!

  6. This looks delicious for sure. 🙂

    1. Thank you! We loved it’

  7. Scallops are one of my very favorites…your method of cooking with garlic, wine, butter and lemon is perfect!
    Jenna

    1. Thank you Jenna. It really is a simple technique more than a recipe, and can easily be adapted to other proteins.

  8. This looks delicious! I remember the wonderful flavor of these scallops. Wish I could get them here…

    1. Thank you Ronit! They are really remarkable aren’t they! One of my favorites, they were one of my mother’s too.

      1. No wonder! 🙂

  9. nancyc says:

    Sounds great, even the vegan version! I love sea shells so I need to go to that Cape Cod beach!!! 🙂

    1. I’ve made the vegan version many times, and it is really popular in the family!

  10. looks delicious!! I love scallops!

    1. Thank you! They are really tasty!

  11. Good scallops and clam strips are as rare as hens teeth, in my opinion. 😜🍃

    1. The good bay scallops are elusive indeed! When negotiating with my fish monger, I feel like we’re making an undercover deal!

      1. Hahaha. I can visualize that happening. 🤣

  12. Forestwood says:

    My mouth always waters when I look at your blog and this post was no exception. Any seafood dish and you have got me mesmerized. I totally agree about frozen dubious country of origin scallop as opposed to fresh ones. (well as fresh as one can get).
    This looks so nice and easy to make.

    1. Thank you. This recipe is really fast to make, easily in less time than after you drop the pasta. And yet it is one of the most flavorful. I always ask the origin before I buy any seafood; sometimes it’s quite surprising!

      1. Forestwood says:

        That is wise policy to check the origin.

  13. Ally Bean says:

    This recipe is prescient. I have scallops thawing in the fridge, planning on using penne with them… but no specific recipe to use. Thank you.

  14. Ah, great culinary minds! Lucky you! Mine are now just a memory!!!

  15. Looks so tasty

  16. Julia says:

    Scallops are one of my husband’s favorite foods. I may try this the next time I get scallops.

    1. Please do, and let me know how you like it. I love any recipe that I can make in the time it takes to cook the pasta!

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